Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a CIA analyst, code name "Condor", who works in a clandestine office in New York City. He reads books, newspapers, and magazines from around the world, looking for hidden meanings and new ideas. As part of his duties, Turner files a report to CIA headquarters on a low-quality thriller novel his office has been reading, pointing out strange plot elements therein, and the unusual assortment of languages into which the book has been translated.
On the day Turner expects a response to his report, while Turner is out to lunch, a group of armed men, led by an Alsatian contract killer later identified as Joubert (Max von Sydow), murders the many people in the office. Returning to find his coworkers' bodies and realizing he is in danger, Turner calls the CIA's New York headquarters, and is given instructions to meet some agents who will take care of him. The meeting, however, is a trap, and Turner escapes an attempt to kill him.